Stephen Hockman QC, speaking on behalf of cladding giant Arconic, told an inquiry into the 2017 disaster the company’s product was used in a “wholly unorthodox and irregular cladding system” on the west London tower, for which it “bore no responsibility”.
Arconic, formerly known as Alcoa, supplied the Reynobond 55 cladding panels with a polyethylene (PE) core that were used in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, and were later found to have fuelled the blaze which claimed 72 lives.
In 2019, inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick concluded the “principal reason” the flames shot up the building at such speed was the combustible cladding which acted as a “source of fuel”.
But Mr Hockman said this conclusion could now be placed in a “far wider” and “more accurate” context following evidence presented to the long-running inquiry.
He highlighted issues such as lack of maintenance of fire protection systems, the failure of compartmentation and reliance on the stay-put policy as some of the “extraordinary range of factors” that were “ultimately responsible for the tragedy to a far greater extent than the role played by any individual product”.
Mr Hockman insisted the aluminium composite material (ACM) panels were “capable of being used in a safe and compliant manner”.
He told the inquiry “the tragic outcome of the Grenfell Tower fire resulted not from the use of ACM PE but from the way in which it was used… in combination with a wide range of other combustible material”.
He said the company had “no control” over what materials were used with its product and in what arrangements.
But Craig Orr QC, representing Celotex, which made the Rs5000 insulation used within the tower’s cladding system, said the inquiry should reject Arconic’s claim its ACM cladding was capable of being used in a compliant way in high rise buildings.
Mr Orr said Arconic’s technical manager Claude Wehrle had warned ACM PE was “dangerous and unsuitable for use on cladding facades”.
During the inquiry, Celotex employees have faced questions about the manipulation of a fire safety test to secure a pass for its combustible Rs5000 product for use on high-rise buildings.
In a previous statement, the firm said during its investigations after the Grenfell blaze “certain issues emerged concerning the testing, certification and marketing of Celotex’s products” which involved “unacceptable conduct on the part of a number of employees”.
It added: “They should not have happened and Celotex has taken concerted steps to ensure that no such issues reoccur.”